The Right Way


I know a man who once decided to submit his manuscript to a famous movie producer. He didn’t know the producer, nor did he have any actual contacts in Hollywood. But he wasn’t going to let that stop him…he packaged up his manuscript in a nice, clean envelope, addressed it to the producer’s office, wrote *Confidential and Personal* on the outside and sent it on its way. Since it said *Confidential and Personal*, the producer’s secretary passed it directly to the man. The producer read it, and while he did not choose to make his next blockbuster movie based on my friend’s manuscript, he was kind enough to offer valuable comments on ways to make the manuscript more saleable.

I was at a publisher’s party some years back, having a conversation with my editor. A self-published writer (at the time, self-pub was almost never done and certainly not with any great success) approached us and introduced herself, then proceeded to tell my editor about an agent she’d just fired. The agent was terrible, didn’t know the business, couldn’t sell a book to a man needing something to burn in his fireplace, blah blah blah. What the writer didn’t know was that the agent she was disparaging was a good friend of my editor.

I once attended a writing conference that featured a very famous NY agent. One of my writing group cohorts happened to be responsible for getting that agent to the conference and making sure he was cared for the whole weekend, so those of us in her group were able to have brief one-on-one conversations with that famous agent. Two of us that I know of were asked for partials, and one became a successful client of that agent.

I once met a women who had a meeting scheduled with an agent. The agent had asked for the first thirty pages of her novel prior to their meeting, but the woman was afraid that the agent intended to steal her work of staggering genius. So instead of sending the first thirty pages as requested, the woman instead sent in thirty random, nonconsecutive pages for the agent to read. And no synopsis. I have a feeling hilarity ensued.

I’ve told these stories before, and for good reason. For every absolute unbreakable rule, there will be someone who breaks it and wins. There will also be someone who breaks the rule egregiously and ends up ruining her shot. It’s hard to know when you should throw caution to the wind, and if you’re not used to trusting your instincts, I’d recommend sticking to those rules until you’re either a bigger name or more in touch with yourself. But now and then a moment comes along when breaking the rules is the only way to launch yourself into the stratosphere of success. I can’t tell you how to know the difference, because it’s not going to be the same for everyone. But I can talk about things I’ve seen, and so can all of you, and maybe together we can laugh about how crazy this industry sometimes is.

Have you had a situation fall into your lap that turned out to be a great opportunity? Have you made (or witnessed) a truly impressive mistake? And has there ever been a time that you thought you were shooting yourself in the foot, only to discover you’d done exactly the opposite?  Let’s share!


2 comments to The Right Way

  • Hepseba ALHH

    I don’t have any spiffy stories like these, or even any writing-related stories. However, career-wise, I would say that when the answer to that thing you are striving for seems to be “No”, still go back and see if there’s a “but…” attached. My thesis adviser wouldn’t take me on because he didn’t have the money for it, *but* said he would if money showed up – so I talked to the department chair and money showed up. The job I really wanted changed its listing to being in another state, *but* I asked if I could work remotely – and they said yes and hired me.

    In pretty much everything, the rules are important, but they don’t actually cover *every*thing, so it’s good to investigate where the boundaries and wiggle-room might be.

  • Razziecat

    Hep, that’s actually pretty good advice! 😀

    I have two stories that could have ended very differently if they hadn’t happened when I was very young and, in one case, without a manuscript. I once attended a large science-fiction con and among the guests were David Gerrold and Ashley Grayson. Together they did a small writing workshop. I learned a lot there, and when it was over I stopped to ask Mr. Grayson a couple of questions. He was very cordial and gracious, and while walking back to the main building he asked about what I was working on. Sad to say, I didn’t have anything in progress at the time! It’s just as well, because I was very inexperienced, but I always wonder what would have happened if I’d had a manuscript to show him.

    The second story: Marion Zimmer Bradley was publishing her “Sword & Sorceress” series of short story anthologies and I wanted to submit one. Just before the deadline we had a family crisis, and I found myself without a return envelope. I sent the story anyway, along with enough stamps for her to mail it back, which I think she missed when she opened my envelope. Needless to say she didn’t accept my story and thought that I had also failed to follow instructions, but she was kind enough to critique my story anyway. I still have that story & her notes somewhere. I should pull it out and see how it compares to what I’m doing now 🙂